This year my youngest child will be fifty-seven. He is a strong and caring man of many concerns and responsibilities. Yet, when I look at him, there is still a picture in the back of my mind of a mischievous, bright-eyed little boy about three, in his cowboy P.J.’s and a mustache of milk. I have similar pictures in my mind of my other three children; they have all turned out well, and I am proud of them… and yet somehow, I find it hard to let go of the memory of them as little children.
I suppose parents never see their children as being fully grown up, even when they (please God) have become your friend as well as being your child. There is always the memory of those days when they truly needed you; when they were adorable babies who did nothing but eat, sleep and need fresh diapers. You can’t forget their first tooth, their first step, or when they first put a sentence together. Your urge to protect them was fierce and necessary. Eventually there were the beginnings of separation as they left the safety of their playpens to play with neighborhood children. Then came school and the not-always-good influence of other children; the bigger dangers to them of traffic and bullies and sports accidents and other more serious things you could no longer control in their lives. Then, all too soon, off to college or a job and out of your sight for months at a time, hopefully living up to the ideals and values you had tried to instill in them.
If we have been good parents we have been training them to be independent, productive, caring adults who will pass their good values on to the next generation. They also need to know that our love for them is forever. However, loving a child and being supportive does not mean that we can condone bad behavior. Allowing a child to be self-centered does him/her no favors.
In order to train a child to become a productive adult, we must do our very best to train them well: instilling right values and disciplining lovingly and gently, but consistently. They need to learn to respect appropriate boundaries and the word “No” very early. They need to recognize our authority as their parents (without our being tyrants). We must start while they are very young; you can’t indulge a child until he is half-grown and then expect a self-controlled and obedient teenager. They have to learn to share and to accept failure as well as success. They must learn accountability for their choices as soon as possible because we can’t control all their physical surroundings or their internal struggles. We must also reinforce our parenting by living lives which clearly demonstrate the values we want them to accept. Eventually, we must prayerfully let them go and give them space to be themselves. They have wills of their own, and will choose their own options, and they need to draw from a sound foundation. Good parenting is hard!
After they are fully grown all we can do is offer counsel, if asked. We can pray for them, and love them unconditionally. We stand in readiness if they should want to come to us for help or advice; trying to remain the silent rock, the foundation underneath. They go their own way, knowing that they can always trust that unconditional love to be there, under-girding, stabilizing and affirming, even if that may occasionally take the form of tough love.
Our relationship with God is a little like this.
When we first come to the Lord, we need almost constant supervision and care. We don’t know anything; it is all new and sometimes bewildering. We are pulled this way and that, and need almost constant encouragement, and I have observed that God often gives new believers almost miraculous good care. He is training us to be able to trust Him to provide and to hear our every cry, just as a mother hears her new baby. However, as we develop faith and as we learn to trust Him, He begins to allow more difficult things in our lives. This develops our “faith muscle”. Sometimes everything may not go well, and we have to learn to trust even if we don’t see a happy ending. We become more like toddlers, being given the freedom to fall down while still keeping mommy in constant view as we pull ourselves back up. His presence is reassuring while we learn to cope with life. He takes us through each stage of training and development as we are able; and eventually we can be trusted to be fully mature believers, knowing His will and not being tossed to and fro, but firmly established in His ways. We will have grown, and changed, and no longer in need of being propped up by constant emotional experiences and feel-good situations. We learn to worship not just with our emotions, but also with our minds. Faith becomes about rock-bound trust; not just transitory feelings.
Ultimately He wants us to grow up in Him, to become spiritual adults standing on His good training of the past, and having learned the basics of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
I think He also expects most of us to use common sense. There is a balance here. We train our children to be able to tie their own shoes, to choose their clothing, to be able to read and think for themselves, and eventually to make the kinds of decisions which will reflect the values of our family. I think that God works in us like that. We are to study and internalize His instructions to us; knowing our Bibles and being prepared to obey what we find there. He trains us, and teaches us so that we can have the right instincts when problems come up. We make millions of tiny decisions each day: to speak, to look, to walk, to eat; realistically, we don’t stop to pray about each and every one of them. We are developing the background, the education in Christ, to be able to make the right choices, to know when something is right or wrong, and able to resist temptation. Underneath is the knowledge that if we really don’t know what to do, we have the unfailing resource of a loving Father to Whom we can go for help.
Just as we train our children to reflect our family values when they are out in the world, our heavenly Father trains us to reflect His values in the world. He gives us a mind and a will and talents. He expects us to learn, over time, how to use all these things in His service, for His glory. We are to grow in Him so that we no longer need to be fed just the milk of the Word, but be able to take the strong meat as well. We are not meant to remain infants in the Lord, but to grow and be able to conduct ourselves as mature believers ~ fully functioning signposts to Christ.
We need to be responsive to His training. Paul, in writing to the Romans, says this: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1,2 NKJV)
We are called as mature adults in the family of God to be holy, to be willing to sacrifice our bodies, minds, and hearts to the will of God; to represent Him faithfully, and not to be drawn into the ways of the world. We are to be sanctified; set apart to the things of God, rather than staying as we were before we accepted the mercy and grace of God for our salvation. We are to renew our minds by the study of His Word, not only reading it, but integrating it into our system of belief and practice. As good, grownup children, we are blessed to know that while this life in Him may be difficult, we have Him always there as the good Parent, ready to comfort and support us. He gives us the strength, and sometimes even the will to be faithful representatives of the family of God.
I don’t want to push the analogy too far. He never fully pushes us out of the nest, because we are never finished learning and growing, and we will continue to be dependent on Him in this life. However, I think He does allow us choices as we make our journey through this life, and we need to be wise. He remains always there, underneath ~ the faithful Rock of safety and support to Whom we turn when we need His wisdom or strength or comfort. I thank God that He a wise, loving Father Whose desire for me is to grow in Him to full spiritual maturity so that in response to His grace and mercy, my life will reflect Him to the world, to His glory.